Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Leadership Is All About Serving Others

Would You Bring A Ladder to Your Employees If They Needed One?

Leadership has many definitions, and when you ask 100 people, it's likely that you'll get more than 100 definitions. One definition for leadership is that leaders serve others. How often have you thought about leadership from that perspective? Someone who has given much thought to this perspective is James Strock, an entrepreneur, professional speaker, and citizen servant. He has served in a wide range of roles, from chief executive to board member to consultant; from starting up and turning around businesses and public agencies; to serving as an author and speaker, adviser, and mentor. Recently, Jim and I discussed a variety of leadership topics, and the highlights follow below.

QUESTION: How do you differentiate between a leader and a manager?
JAMES STROCK: A leader’s capacity to serve others - to add value - is based in large part on crafting a vision. A leader can help us to find a path to understanding and action. Ideally, he or she enables us to see our way to break new paths. By contrast, a manager adds value by advancing the vision. He or she directs scarce resources in the most effective way. Of course, in practice, the lines between managing and leading can be blurred. An effective leader must have a sure sense of resources and their application. An effective manager likely has cultivated leadership skills.

QUESTION: What three things can an individual do to inspire others?
JAMES STROCK: Serve, serve, and serve again. The farther one serves others, the more one can inspire others. Courage - giving one’s heart and well-being to the service of others - is invariably inspiring.

QUESTION: How can an individual gain respect without a leadership title?
JAMES STROCK: Achieving results, working effectively with others, these are approaches that will be recognized and rewarded in any properly functioning enterprise. Today, more than ever, leadership and position are recognized as not necessarily being one and the same.

QUESTION: What three things can individuals do to create a positive leadership legacy?
JAMES STROCK: Leadership legacies are vitalized through relationships with future generations. It’s said that life is short, art is long. Accomplishments per se can distinguish a life. And yet, most individual accomplishments are forgotten over time. Leadership is an art. It can have enduring impact, to the extent it inspires new generations.

Three things that people can do to create such a leadership legacy are:
1. Think of the rising generations always.
2. Study history. History provides examples of lasting leadership legacies.
3. Craft a vision that builds upon fundamentals. That will open up historical examples with relevance today. And a vision built on fundamentals can have continuing relevance - even as future generations build on it to meet their own goals.

QUESTION: What three tips would you give to a new leader?
JAMES STROCK: One can become a “leader” or a “new leader” anytime, simply by one’s own decision. Leadership is all about the service. This can be seen as profound or aspirational; it’s also entirely practical. In any kind of new leadership role, three areas of focus come to mind.

First: listen, listen, listen. Observe with an artist’s eye for detail. Leadership, by definition, is about working with others, serving others. Listening is at the core of all effectiveness. It’s also an unmistakable manifestation of virtues that make a difference: love, humility, a servant’s perspective.

Second, if your new role includes responsibility for others’ well-being, make certain that you adjust your own day-to-day, hour-by-hour attention and work toward that end. Many people who are “promoted” from staff positions, where their work is directed by others, have some difficulty in making this adjustment.

Third, remember that first impressions matter. They can advance your goals dramatically. Or, mishandled, they can set your cause back.

QUESTION: Can you provide some examples of impressive leadership that you've seen in your experiences?
JAMES STROCK: Once one internalizes the notion that “everyone can lead, because everyone can serve,” one notices great and small acts of leadership everywhere. Here's one example from history: the presidential leadership of Theodore Roosevelt. Among his greatest legacies is America’s commitment to environmental protection as a fundamental value. TR’s push for environmental stewardship was not the result of public or interest group pressure, much less polling. He saw that there were a series of challenges that were not yet recognized, much less seen as related: building the “national character,” properly conserving the nation’s resources, and connecting past and future generations to the American project. Roosevelt’s example - of moving the nation to action, in the absence of a universally-recognized crisis such as a war or calamitous economic downturn - is quite relevant at the dawn of the 21st century.

I have compiled a list of inspiring 21st Century Leaders with reasons why I chose them. Some members of the list include: Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Tony Hsieh, Steve Jobs, Herb Kelleher, Indra Nooyi, and Howard Shultz. 

Check out this page on my website at http://servetolead.org/21st-century-leaders-list.

QUESTION: One of my favorite quotes about leadership is from author and consultant Mark Herbert:
Leadership is a gift, not a position. It doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to trust and be trusted – and block and tackle for others. What does this quote mean to you?
JAMES STROCK: Such a fundamental, clarifying insight is embedded in that fine quotation! Ronald Reagan put it this way: “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” Lao Tzu merits the last word: “Fail to honor people, they will fail to honor you. But of a Great Leader, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, the people will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’”

Learn more insights from James Strock on his website at www.servetolead.org, and connect on Twitter at @jamesstrock.

Image Credit: jesadaphorn via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

5 Business Lessons from the Sochi Olympics

By now, many of us may have tired of seeing the Olympics logo at the bottom of television screens and hearing about gold medal winners hours after the events – sometimes even days later. But while the results of the Sochi Olympics are now in the history books, there are some important business lessons we can all apply and learn from this international athletic event.

There was no doubt that viewers were watching something spectacular. Opening ceremonies were full of lights, action, music, and of course, the distinctive outfits worn by athletes representing all the different countries. As a business, how often do you create events with the sole purpose of putting on a memorable show to develop employee loyalty and recognize employees? This can be done with summer picnics, beach parties, birthday parties, holiday parties, etc.

All countries showcase their individuality with the outfits their athletes wear during the opening ceremonies. Does your business have shirts, jackets, or caps that showcase your logo or brand identity? Or do your employees wear their own clothes – and in the process confuse customers?

Even if an athlete doesn’t win a Gold, Silver, or Bronze medal, he or she is an Olympic athlete. For your business, even if an employee doesn’t make the biggest sale or develop the next iPad, he or she is still contributing in some way to the overall bottom line.

How transparent is your leadership team? There may be things going on that many employees don’t understand – think about the confusion surrounding the curling event – so take the time and make the effort to explain and provide a big picture view so everyone is on the same page. Many employees are more productive and more successful if they understand how their piece of the pie impacts the entire project.


Sportscaster and commentator Bob Costas had a medical issue (an eye infection that oddly became the most talked about news of the Sochi games) and had to be replaced by a member of his team. Are there individuals in your business who understand a variety of specialty areas and who could step in at the eleventh hour? No one should own all information about a specific area or project. If so, your company could be at risk. Consider if there is a data breach and no one can locate the IT manager. Or consider if there is a media emergency and no one can locate the President to talk with the media. Create policies, plans, and alternate employees to assist in a variety of scenarios.

What other lessons did you learn from the Olympics that you can apply to your business and workplace? Please chime in.

Image Credit: Iamnee via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.